On April 24, nine EU commissioners flew into Beijing, where according to Der Spiegel their mission will be to balance Tibet and trade. What this seems to amount to in practice is Peter Mandelson calling on the Chinese government to unequivocally come out against the wave of boycotts promoted by the fenqing and targeted primarily at French hypermarket Chain Carrefour. Some have been pretty spectacular.
France became the particular target for nationalist ire in China after scenes of disabled torchbearer Jin Jing wrestling over the Olympic flame with a pro-Tibetan protestor were heavily covered in the PRC. Another factor may also be in play.
According to Chinaâ€™s new leftist scholar Wang Hui, modern Chinese nationalism is basically a middle class phenomenon â€“ consumer nationalism, he calls it â€“ built around the idea that imports to China are a sign of the countryâ€™s increasing wealth and power. It recalls the old idea of barbarian nations bringing tribute to the Middle Kingdom. A Chinese nationalist doesnâ€™t â€œbuy Chineseâ€. He or she is more likely than others to prefer foreign goods, especially high end goods, as a sign of personal and national prestige. Contra Orwell, it’s the rich, rather than the poor, who are more national in China. Itâ€™s a notion confirmed by the anti-Japanese riots a few years back. These were focused on Shanghai, a city whose per capita income is five times the national average. So the countryâ€™s prominence in the luxury goods sector makes it especially vulnerable to a consumer boycott by Chinese nationalists.
Rupert Murdoch once described that Dalai Lama as an old political monk shuffling round in Gucci sandals. Given Sarkozyâ€™s rush to mend fences with the Chinese government, the real problem here might be that he doesnâ€™t have a set of Louis Vuitton suitcases to carry them around in.